'Lone Survivor' is a Solid War Movie

Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor is unlike any war movie I have ever seen. It begins with what looks like real footage from military training. It immediately emphasizes the sense of brotherhood, an idea that continues to be emphasized throughout the rest of the movie.

Based on a true story, Mark Wahlberg stars as Marcus Luttrell, one of four Navy SEALs sent into the Afghan mountains to find a senior member of the Taliban, staking out the village where he is supposedly hiding, getting a positive ID  on him, and moving in when the time is right. However, they are caught off guard when they are found by wandering shepherds. As if you didn’t already get a bad feeling because of this incident, from the moment they release the shepherds (whom they had briefly taken prisoner) you know something is going to go horribly wrong, even though the SEALs’ intention is to abort the mission.

Despite their intentions to abort the mission and move on, the four SEALs find themselves surrounded by a small Taliban army, and are engaged in a gunfight that goes well for the SEALs at first, but starts to go south when one of them (the one calling for help) basically gets his fingers shot off. Then another proceeds to get shot in the shoulder, and it continues to go only severely downhill from there.

While there are some lighter moments (like when they’re all hazing the new guy, or when Marcus is trying to explain to a fellow SEAL that an Arabian horse is not called an “Arabic horse”), this movie is intense from start to finish. The brutality of the war in Afghanistan is portrayed from the beginning, and it never lets up. There are moments when the suspense, the violence, and high-charged emotions you will probably feel as an audience member (at some point or other) keep you firmly planted on the edge of your seat.

There are several amazing things about this movie. One is how many times the SEALs should have all died and didn’t (though by the end of the movie, only Mark Wahlberg’s character is alive). Another is how the men work together and, many times, save each other. Yet another is how determined four men are to stay alive while fighting a small army, their chances looking grim at best. They believe very strongly in their cause, however, and they will not go down unless they are fighting with everything they have. The way these men are portrayed (both in general and during specific scenes), every time one of them dies, your heart breaks just a little more. The most devastating of all moments was when air rescue arrived, only for one helicopter to effectively get blown out of the sky, and the other to flee the scene without ever having landed. The hopelessness is almost overwhelming. Finally, this movie is very powerful in how it handles war and humanity. It shows that war is brutal, and it also shows that people can be good, risking their lives for others, even in the midst of the most dangerous situations they could possibly be in (for example, members of an Afghan village – particularly a man and his young son – bravely standing against the Taliban and keeping Mark Wahlberg’s character alive).

In general, I can understand why it’s rated R (there’s a lot of violence, and more F-bombs than I have ever heard in one movie). I also understand why it was rated so highly by critics and audience members (4/5 or 5/5 stars on many websites I’ve checked). If I had to pick one thing I didn’t like, though, it would be the very frustrating fact that it was very difficult for me to tell any of the SEALs apart. All four of them looked basically the same, expect Mark Wahlberg because he’s…well, Mark Wahlberg. While there were times when this movie was almost too intense for me to handle, it is well worth watching and I highly recommend it. It is an incredible story, and I fully intend to read the book.

Changes Coming to Route 5 Next Year

The half mile section of Route 5 that separates the Historic Campus from the Main Campus is set to undergo several changes over the next year or two. Phase one of these changes are set to begin this summer. The deep concrete swale that has been responsible for draining storm water from the roadway for the past several decades is to be replaced with a shallower and more environmentally sensitive grass swale. The shoulder is going to be trimmed back on both sides of the road in order to make room for eight ft. wide pedestrian sidewalks. In addition, a crosswalk is to be added between the edge of the wooden pedestrian bridge across St. John’s Pond and the boathouse parking lot. The college is also looking to install over a dozen new lamp posts to light the pedestrian sidewalk.

Perhaps the most drastic changes slated to occur this summer is to the intersection between Route 5 and Trinity Church Road. The turn is going to be shifted so that it is more of a T-Intersection. This will allow cars turning right off Trinity Road to make a shallower turn without peeling into the lane of oncoming traffic. Another benefit is that the sharper angle should prevent cars from rocketing off Route 5 as though Trinity Church Road is an off ramp. In the words of Director of Design and Construction, Daniel Branigan “cars roar down that road at ludicrous speeds; honestly, it’s a miracle no one has been killed.”

Looking farther into the future, phase two of the changes to Route 5 involves improvements to the road and bridge in front of college drive. The college hopes to build a new foot path along the college property that borders Route 5 and a 700 ft wooden foot bridge across the swamp that separates the rugby fields from the rest of the college. At present, the shoulder of the road is dangerous and not conducive to pedestrian traffic. The situation on the bridge is even worse; where pedestrians have barely ten inches of shoulder to walk on.

The college received five bids for the construction contract. W.M. Davis, a general contracting company based in Southern Maryland,  offered the lowest bid, winning them the contract. At the time of writing, the college is waiting for permission from the State Highway Administration to formally award the contract to W.M Davis.  The total contract award is for $996,000, of which the college is contributing $150,000 to make up the difference between the federal funding available for the project and the actual cost of the construction. Approval to award the bid is expected any day. Phase one is scheduled for completion by Jul 1, 2014 and phase two is anticipated to begin sometime in 2015.

I'm Just Saying: Hello Goodbye

Spring, long awaited and oft delayed, has at last visited St. Mary’s!  As temperatures finally rise, blooms burst forth, ospreys and other migratory birds return from their winter havens, we can consider the return of Spring as symbolic of  rebirth–the opportunity to begin a new cycle of growth.  Of course, on a college campus, the full arrival of Spring also signals the end of classes for the semester, and for our graduating seniors, the imminent separation from a college experience they have come to cherish.

Considering all that we have experienced in this year of rapid change and multiple transitions, I feel it is apt for us to characterize this time as one of farewells and welcome.  We entered this past year full of questions about the future but full of determination to set things right; we were greeted by uncertainty, but we bid farewell to doubt.

We welcomed a new class, full of energy and promise, and marveled at how quickly they have made their mark on this campus; in a few weeks, we will say “so long” to a class that has persisted through hurricanes, an earthquake and other upheavals to make their own indelible impressions on St. Mary’s.  We have, with mixed emotions, wished Godspeed and the best of luck for iconic campus figures who have moved on to other opportunities or to a well-deserved rest from their labors,  even as we look forward to new leadership and blossoming opportunities to grow and develop.

Whilst we have navigated this turbulent year, we have connected to lodestones of stability that provide guidance and hope for the future.  We have, as a community, made difficult choices together and have emerged leaner, but stronger.  We have renewed our commitment to what is distinctive about St. Mary’s and that commitment has gained us allies across the State–and a new President fully conversant with and invested in the tenets of the St. Mary’s Way.  What I have found most remarkable over this past year has been the unquenchable spirit of Seahawk Nation; the camaraderie, the compassion, and the determined optimism behind the simple slogan “We Are St. Mary’s” has been a continuing inspiration to me and my colleagues.

This Spring will mark a time of transition for me as well, as I leave the position of Dean of Students and my tenure at St. Mary’s College comes to an end.  It has been my honor to work with dedicated, talented, and clever people in Student Affairs over the past two years who make facilitating a transformative student experience their highest priority.  It’s been my good fortune in the preceding four years to explore the sometimes arcane concepts of economics with students who were willing, from time to time, to venture from well-worn paths of theory to discover fresh insights (and to share them with me) and to form bonds with faculty colleagues.  Above all, it has been my privilege to get to know some of the most intelligent, interesting and inspiring young people I have encountered in over thirty years in higher education.  I have been enriched by a treasure hoard of memories and friendships that have and will continue to nourish me. 

As the early blossoms of Spring give way to the more substantive foliage of mid-May, I will be proud to greet the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2014, one by one, as I usher them onto the platform to receive their diplomas and the cheers of their friends and loved ones.

And then I will say Goodbye.

Sawatdee Thai Grocery is Great for Fresh Seafood

When I searched Thai food restaurants in the area I only expected to find Thai Inter, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an unknown Thai grocery store and restaurant called Sawatdee on Great Mills Road in Lexington Park. The other editors had never heard of it, though they did have a Facebook page, which showed food pictures and had good reviews.  Last Saturday, I drove out to find the grocery store, dragging my boyfriend along lest it turn out to be a myth and not really exist. After passing by the grocery once and freaking out my GPS (her name is Susan), I quickly did a U-turn and found myself in front of a tiny building with the name “Sawatdee” in Thai and English. We walked inside and immediately the atmosphere seemed friendly and accommodating. While it mainly serves as a local grocery for the area, there are two small tables in the middle of the one room building where we sat to wait for our food after ordering.

There are shelves on the left side of the shop that have everything from Siracha Rooster sauce to microwaveable Japanese Mama noodles and coconut milk to make curry with. On the other side two large fridges carry fresh seafood from the bay and a smaller fridge for sodas and teas. Colorful pictures of each available dish are posted on the walls and there are menus at the counter to pick out your meal.

I went for the classic Pad Thai which is thin rice noodles, peanuts, bean sprouts, and other veggies and delicious spices. My boyfriend decided to be adventurous and get the chicken curry with rice. The owners are very nice and make sure to see what spice level you want for your meal. It only took about ten to fifteen minutes for our food to arrive, and I was excited to eat what I had been craving for the past week.

The shrimp was fresh and very succulent while the noodles were cooked to perfection. For only eight dollars, I got a huge helping of pad thai with shrimp and veggies. The curry came out with a mild spice that left your tongue simmering and enjoying the burn. I snuck a few bites of curry and was very pleased with it. So for a total of 16 dollars we got two bottles of water and a large portion of a classic Thai dish. The owner was very attentive and came out to see if we needed anything a few times.

I would suggest the Sawatdee grocery any time you crave Thai and are on a budget, or if you want access to fresh seafood and Thai products to make your own delicious dishes. Overall, I would give the restaurant an 8 out of 10 for splendid taste, price and service.

Semester's Final Voices Reading Bittersweet and Hilarious

This semester’s final Voices reading was held on Thursday, April 24 in Daugherty-Palmer Commons, and it was also Professor Karen Anderson’s last reading before she goes on sabbatical next year. Professor Anderson gave a brief introduction with her background in planning on-campus readings both at St. Mary’s and elsewhere, and described how she was originally worried about faculty, student, and writer involvement, but she was blown away by the consistent attendance at and interest in the readings. Professor Jerry Gabriel then introduced the readers. The readers, Corinna Valliantos and Kevin Moffett, are a married couple living outside of Los Angeles with their son and three dogs, and each have a distinctive writing voice and sense of humor.
Valliantos read from her new novel, Greater Nature about a man named Kurt Quick, a newscaster based in Los Angeles whose life goes downhill very quickly in a series of mistakes. The excerpt was hilarious with a witty, dry humor due to word play and, admittedly, a sense of schadenfreude. For example, when describing Bernadette, Kurt’s girlfriend turned wife turned ex-wife, Valliantos wrote that she was an actress and her “tongue was long and her legs were insured.” Funny and poignant, the story was a delight to hear and absolutely sparked an interest in the upcoming novel.
Moffett read from his soon-to-be-published collaborative work, The Silent History, about children in the near future who are “born without the ability to create or comprehend language, but perhaps with other surprising skills of their own” called the Silents. The story is available for download for iPhones and iPads due to its media component; immediately prior to his reading, Moffett played a movie clip that give the story some background and exposition. He then read excerpts from the story from the perspective of two individuals who are fascinated by the Silents and their perceptions about why the Silents suddenly came into being and why it is so important to try to connect with them despite their lack of language comprehension. The story was both touching and funny.
After the readings there was a brief question and answer session when attendees could ask the authors about their writing styles, the stories, or the authors themselves. Questions were asked about the authors’ distinctive, similar senses of humor, to which the authors replied that while they acknowledged that being married for over ten years can create similarities, their senses of humor were one of the traits that drew them to one another in the first place.
Next semester, the Voices Readings program will be run by Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black, who is coming back fresh from a year on sabbatical, and will surely be as interesting and engaging as this year’s readings.